Dennis Newell is a very descriptive speaker. Ask him a question, and he'll answer it, colorfully.
So when asked what's the secret to his super-successful women's cross country program at the University of Mary, Newell was his typical loquacious self.
"There's a list of variables as long as my leg," said Newell, who could give Tony Robbins a run for his money on motivational speaking. "Generally speaking, there are no secrets. There is no magic wand. Throughout the course of the season, we've had our good days and our bad days. That's part of competitive athletics. What this team has done throughout the course of the season is progress from having bad days and good days, to having good days and great days.
"We're just hoping to have one more great day."
Newell and his team have very specific goals on Saturday at the NCAA Division II national meet in Evansville, Ind. The Marauders are ranked fifth in the country. At the very least, they want to "trophy" which requires a top four finish. The top 40 individual finishers earn All-American honors.
Every team wants to do well, but the Marauders have the runners to do it, thanks in large part to a trio of talented local athletes. Lexi Zeis of Bismarck High, Century's Jaiden Schuette and Kate Fox from nearby Wing form the foundation the high hopes are built upon.
Zeis, already one of the top D-II cross country runners ever with three All-American finishes, including a national title in 2015, said the local angle adds a dimension to the team's success.
"It shows with the right people and the desire to succeed anything is possible," said Zeis, who placed second at nationals last year. "Yeah, maybe we don't come from some huge town or big college, but we have two girls from Bismarck and one from Wing, North Dakota and we're doing pretty well. We like the challenge of going against the best."
'We don't get sick of each other'
When asked to cook down his program's success to one word, Newell was quick on the draw.
"Relationships," he said. "You think about your own family. I think about my wife and three kids, we love each other. It's not that different. I'm going to go out of my way to sacrifice personal gain for my children, I'm going to do it for my wife. It's the same way with this team.
"We're willing to sacrifice individuality for the betterment of this team and it's obvious every day. It's very special. It's very unique and it's very genuine."
Schuette, who took second in the conference meet and seventh in the regional, agreed.
"The word I'd use is we're like a family," said Schuette, a nursing major. "It's not like we're just together at practice or during meets. We hang out a lot. We don't get sick of each other."
Fox, the Marauders' No. 2 finisher at the regional meet in Nebraska two weeks ago, took it a step further.
"We eat three meals together every day," the math education major said. "There's a genuine bond of real friendship. When you have that with the people you're running with, you don't have the thought of, 'What's best for me?' It's, 'What's best for the team?'
"Obviously, there's an individual aspect to it in that for the team to achieve our goals we have to do well individually, but what we have here as a team is really special."
'Give it my all'
Zeis's career already is one for the record books. The question is what comes after Saturday?
Runners as accomplished as Zeis, often continue training in hopes of a professional career, or maybe even the Olympics.
"There's always the target of big world meets. To be at that level someday would be awesome," she said.
After the year ends, and she earns her degree in athletic training, she'll attend grad school at U-Mary and continue training under Newell.
"My goal is to try to qualify for the USA World Cross Country Team in 2019," she said.
But first things first.
"Everybody's goal is to win it," Zeis said of the national meet. "It comes down to who's going to show up on that day, at that time on the starting line."
"It's my last collegiate cross country race. I'm going to give it my all."
Based on the results of the Central Region race two weeks ago, the Marauders appear to be peaking at the right time.
According to Newell, he's never had a team more healthy heading into nationals. Like in all sports, executing the game plan is critical. But even more so is having the runners good enough to do it. On paper, U-Mary has that.
"I've always been fortunate to be around good runners and that pushes you to be your best," said Schuette. "We're great friends, but we're also competitive people. We bring out the best in each other."
Fox says the individual will of each team member plays a part in the their success.
"You have to self-motivate yourself. You can't just go through the motions, not in this sport," she said. "Our coaches have tremendous knowledge and understanding of what it takes for us to be successful and then it's up to us to apply that.
"We have to be responsible for our own actions and weigh what we do every day with how it's going to affect how we race and how it impacts the team."
Newell's methods continue to produce stellar results, with one notable exception, a trophy at nationals.
"Really, Xs and Os are out the window at this point," he said. "It's about the mental preparation; keeping loose and not putting too much pressure on yourself, but at the same time this is a big event. It's a big deal and we're ready.
"It's about controllable anxiety. Holding that energy and then using it as an energy source in the race. It's going to be fun. It's time."